Published : Thursday, August 31, 2017 | 2:02 PM
It’s that time of year again when parents and children alike must face vaccinations. Pasadena Now turned to Michael Miller, owner and pharmacist-in-charge of Webster’s Pharmacy in Altadena, as well as, Gloria Ko, Pharmacist and Immunization Specialist, for the latest news and expert insights for parents on the importance of having children vaccinated against “common childhood diseases” such as measles and diphtheria.
Pasadena Now: Just how common are “common childhood illnesses” like measles and diphtheria? Do vaccinations eliminate them completely?
Miller: While measles and mumps are not as common as they used to be, parents should still take precautions and vaccinate their children. Children should get two doses of MMR, the 1st dose being at 12-15 months of age and the 2nd dose at 4-6 years of age. The recommended immunization schedule provided by the CDC is meant to protect infants and children early in life when they are most vulnerable and before they are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases. If people are not vaccinated, the illnesses that have become uncommon such as polio and chickenpox will return.
Pasadena Now: Is the drop in illnesses solely due to vaccinations or is our society more sanitary today? What is the reason for the dramatic drop in illnesses?
Miller: Thanks to vaccinations and public awareness, cases of childhood illnesses that can be prevented by vaccinations have dropped and continue to drop.
Pasadena Now: If you are vaccinated, does it guarantee you won’t get that illness?
Miller: Generally speaking, if an individual gets vaccinated and follows the vaccine schedule accordingly without missing booster shots, they are very well protected. However, a misconception of vaccines is that once you get the vaccine, you cannot get the illness. Just because one gets the vaccine does not guarantee effectiveness because influenza viruses are always changing. If one does get the illness, however, their illness may be a lot milder. Every flu season, the CDC and researchers try to determine which strains of flu viruses will be most common during the flu season. “Trivalent” flu vaccines are formulated to protect against three, and “quadrivalent” flu vaccines, four of the most common flu strains. While efforts are made to ensure that seasonal flu vaccines cover the most common flu strains, it does not always 100 percent guarantee how well matched the flu vaccine is with circulating viruses. The flu vaccine works best among children older than two years of age and healthy adults. With all this said, however, flu vaccination is still an important preventative tool for pregnant individuals, people with chronic health conditions and can greatly reduce flu-associated hospitalization among children and adults. Not only does getting vaccinated protect the individual themselves, but also their loved ones around them. Getting a flu vaccine every year is still the best way to prevent the flu.
Pasadena Now: Because certain diseases crop up so rarely now are vaccines for them even necessary?
Miller: While vaccinations have greatly diminished and eliminated cases of diseases that were once very common among the public, vaccines continue to be necessary and important preventative tools for the public, especially among immunocompromised individuals and young children. If optimum rates of immunization or “herd immunity” are not maintained, the diseases prevented by vaccination will reappear.
Pasadena Now: Is there some misinformation that you could dispel about vaccines that make some parents decide not to immunize their children?
Miller: There have been myths and misinformation regarding the dangers of vaccines. While thiomersal, an organic, mercury-containing compound, is commonly found in vaccines as a preservative, it is very safe and there is no evidence to suggest that the amount of thiomersal used in vaccines poses a health risk. In fact, one is far more likely to get seriously injured from a vaccine-preventable illness than from the vaccine itself. In addition, the 1998 study that raised concerns of a possible link between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism set off a public panic and subsequent outbreaks of the disease. However, that study was found to be completely fraudulent and flawed. To date, there is no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism disorders. There have also been misconceptions that flu vaccines cause the flu. While the vaccine may mimic the symptoms of a flu, the vaccine itself is inactivated and cannot cause the flu. What is important for the public to understand is that after vaccination, it takes a few weeks for the body to develop “immunity” against the flu, so if one was to come in contact with circulating flu viruses before immunity is fully developed, one can still come down with the cold or flu.
Pasadena Now: What exactly do vaccines do? How do they work inside the body against the illness or disease?
Miller: Vaccines work by interacting with the immune system to produce an immune response similar to that produced by the natural infection. However, unlike a natural infection, the vaccine does not cause the disease or put the immunized individual at risk of its potential complications. Antibodies and other defensive molecules circulate in the blood to destroy foreign bacteria and other microbes. When a foreign bacteria or virus enters the body, a humoral immune response occurs and B cells work to defend the body. The goal of vaccines is to stimulate this response and in the long run, help the body build immunity to disease.
Pasadena Now: Can you explain the lifespan of a disease? And where do the vaccinations intercept?
Miller: Depending on the virus, the lifespan of a virus can range anywhere from a few hours to several days or even longer; certain viruses, for example the chickenpox virus (aka varicella zoster), stay dormant in the nerve cells when inactivated. When this “sleeper” virus is reactivated due to a depressed immune system, it can cause shingles, which appears as blisters and a painful rash. While the vaccination does not completely eliminate the possibility of shingles, it does lessen the severity and complication of the disease by more than 50 percent.
Pasadena Now: Do vaccines and vaccinations make my child’s immune system weaker or stronger or neither?
Miller: Vaccines boosts immune systems by mimicking the disease. By imitating an infection, the vaccine causes the immune system to produce T-lymphocytes and antibodies. While the imitation infection can cause minor symptoms such as fever, such symptoms are normal and should be expected as the body builds immunity. Once the imitation infection goes away, the body is left with “memory” T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight that disease in the future.
Need to speak to someone about what the best course of treatment is for your family and you? Stop by Webster’s Community Pharmacy in Altadena to meet with the Pharmacist who will assist you in selecting the right treatment for you. A part of the Altadena landscape since 1926, Webster’s Community Pharmacy is a full-service prescription pharmacy that also carries medical supplies.
Webster’s Community Pharmacy is located at 2450 North Lake Avenue, Altadena. Call (626) 797-1163 or visit www.Altadenarx.com for more information.